Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (ESV)
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Still Small Voice
Friday of Pentecost 4
11 July 2014
The church building of the congregation I serve, Memorial Lutheran Church, stands below a multistory office tower. When the wind is from the south it howls between the church and the office tower. I feel like I am standing in a wind tunnel battling to make progress against the gale that gets pinched into the canyon between the buildings. Sometimes I lean into the wind, it is so fierce. Even though we are on a busy city street, you can hear little else when the wind howls like that. When we are struggling with life or with faith, we feel like we are in a wind tunnel, with trouble swirling and howling all around us. The devil pounds upon us, the world demands from us, and the flesh screams against us. When everything seems to be going wrong around, just then the devil attacks and our hearts quiver; everything seems to being collapsing around our ears. Often trouble in the world feeds our feeling that our sin has made us a castaway from God, in the manner of a self perpetuating nuclear reaction. Trouble becomes ever more powerfully troubling. Trouble and trial seems to beget more of the same.
Just then our interior resources are shown for what they are: worthless. We can't keep our own heart from rebelling and pointing out to us our wickedness and inadequacy (Ps 13:2). Just when we need our heart to be stalwart and courageous it quails and melts (Ps 22:14). At best we feel the sighing of Spirit in unutterable speech (Rm 8:26), but the howling around us seems to drown out that still small voice. No, our inner strength will never be strong enough when trial blows through life.
But the Christian has the Word alone, and must look to it. Here is the truth about who we are in the sight of God. This cannot be found within, but must be testified by God in His Word which neither lies nor deceives. The Word of God runs completely counter to the storm of despair that swirls about us. Just when we are most unable to rescue ourselves, does the divine Word step in with the clear testimony of God's compassion for poor sinners in the person of His eternal Son. Just when we are weakest and feel we cannot take another plodding step (Ps 73:2), then God speaks. When we realize our own strength is nothing but a sham and lie, then God's Word brings the truth to us that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin (1Jn 1:7). What better Word could there be in the midst of our trial than the one that does not depend on us and that God has sealed with the blood of His Son. Just when the howling is the loudest, God speaks by His Son.
"Our faith, which sighs to Christ in trial, is very weak as far as we are able to discern. That is why we do not hear this cry, 'Abba, Father!' (Gal 4:6
). We have only the Word, which, if we take hold of this in the struggle, we breathe a little and sigh. To some extent we are aware of this sigh, but we do not hear the cry. But Paul says 'He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit' (Rm 8:27
). To Him who searches the hearts this sigh, which seems so meager to us, is a loud cry and an inexpressible sigh, in comparison with which the great and horrible roars of the Law, sin, death, the devil, and hell are nothing at all and are inaudible. It is not for nothing that Paul calls this sigh of the pious and afflicted heart is the crying and unspeakable sighing of the Spirit. It fills all of heaven and earth and cries so loudly that the angels suppose that they cannot hear anything except this cry.
"Within ourselves, however, there is the very opposite feeling. This faint sigh of ours does not seem to penetrate the clouds so that it is the only thing heard by God and the angels in heaven. In fact, we suppose, especially as long as trial continues, that the devil is raging at us terribly, that heaven is bellowing, that the earth is quaking, that everything is about to collapse, that all creatures are threatening us with evil, and that hell is opening up in order to swallow us. This feeling is in our hearts. We do not hear these horrible voices or see this frightening face. And this is what Paul says: that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness (2Co 12:9). For then Christ is truly almighty, and then He truly reigns and triumphs in us when we are so weak that we can scarcely emit a groan. But Paul says that in the ears of God this sigh is a mighty cry that fills all of heaven and earth."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Lord Christ, You have spoken in Your Word about us. Keep us focused on that which both forgives and gives comfort to the weary sinner, that we might not be forced upon our own resources. Amen.
For the family and friends of Pastor Klemet Preus, especially Jan, that they would give thanks to God for the baptized life of Klemet and the promise of eternal life given to him through his baptism into Christ, as his mortal remains are laid to rest tomorrow
For Joyce Burrows, that she might believe the Word which she has heard from childhood, no matter what she feels in her weakness
For all those who struggle to believe God's graciousness in Christ, that the Holy Spirit would open their hearts to that truth
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014